It’s hard to believe that a little over three years ago, a theatrical version of Justice League was released and panned by critics, given “meh” responses from audiences, and then ultimately became a colossal box office disappointment for what should’ve been a huge celebration of DC Comics’ mightiest heroes. What happened leading up to the release of that version of the movie in theaters back in 2017 and what came afterwards has been well documented by numerous people across the globe. Hell, there’s even a recently published book with all the details. Every bit of the story from what happened during production, to the reshoots with a new director, to the theatrical release, the movement from a single hashtag on Twitter (#ReleaseTheSnyderCut) to today’s release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is crazy. And in the end, one thing is for certain: director Zack Snyder was right all along. Snyder’s fully-realized vision here is a heroic triumph of a comic-book-come-to-life that makes for one of the best superhero movies in recent years, without a doubt, and the proper introduction of DC’s best coming together to save the world.
The plot for Zack Snyder’s Justice League is essentially the same as what we saw in 2017’s Justice League. Superman is dead as a result of the events in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which awakens three mother boxes across the globe and signals antagonist Steppenwolf to come to earth and retrieve them as Batman and Wonder Woman recruit a team to stop him. However, what’s different in the 2017 version and what audiences will see on HBO Max starting today is that the story is much more coherent. Sure, it’s told in four hours, and there are certainly nitpicks with plotting and a few slow-motion sequences (a component of all of Zack’s movies) that drag things out a little bit. But then again, it’s easy to overlook those minor drawbacks since each superhero and villain is given their moments to shine and flesh out the story, the action sequences being extended and ramped up, and an epic score (Junkie XL) accompanying it all. Instead of everything feeling shoehorned in like it was back in the theatrical cut, it’s all told at a pace that feels more than acceptable. The difference between the theatrical cut and Zack Snyder’s cut is day and night, with less than 20% of what was shown in theaters having made it into this product. Zack Snyder’s take on these heroic characters have previously been criticized in Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it’s obvious what the director is going for: they’re gods amongst men with the weight of the world on their shoulders. And finally, in a cut of this length, they’re all shown in epic fashion that makes the viewing experience immersive and enjoyable.
Two of the biggest knocks in terms of character development and storytelling from the theatrical cut are retconned in Zack Snyder’s Justice League and are the best parts of the movie. First, Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is given a deeply rooted and meaningful backstory that truly makes him the heart and soul of this story. Where, thanks to studio interference, Cyborg felt like a meaningless character in 2017, he is given his due justice here. And then there’s Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), who was a one-dimensional villain in the theatrical cut, but now has relevance for his mission to earth rather than just being some CGI villain getting some boxes to take over the world and saying “For Darkseid” with no explanation behind that statement. And speaking of Darkseid, another villain who is basically DC’s version of Thanos from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he’s given screen time instead of being merely a name mentioned back in the theatrical cut. His brief appearances throughout Zack Snyder’s Justice League will have fans foaming at the mouth to see more of him. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but one can hope.
The other heroes in Zack Snyder’s Justice League get their time in the sun as well, and that helps further elevate this cut. Batman (Ben Affleck) doesn’t just cut jokes here like he did in the theatrical cut, but he is assertive throughout this time. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) get recut action sequences that are more eye-popping than what we saw in 2017, especially in one sequence featuring the Scarlet Speedster that will excite fans for his upcoming solo movie that’s about to enter production. Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) isn’t introduced as a wannabe rock star with “Icky Thump” blaring in this cut. He’s shown as a hero to a village in need of help. And how about Superman (Henry Cavill)? Well, Snyder’s cut doesn’t feature any of the much-talked-about scenes featuring Cavill’s edited-out mustache thanks to visual effects. Instead, Cavill’s Superman gets a rightful reappearance into this shared universe after his initial death. All of these characters in Zack Snyder’s Justice League are collectively better than how they were shown in the butchered theatrical cut that was supposed to be under two hours and more lighthearted and comical. (By the way, I also would say this version is funnier).
The journey to fulfill Zack Snyder’s true vision for DC Comics’ shared universe of their most iconic heroes has been almost 10 years in the making. Once the theatrical cut of Justice League was out (which I initially liked at first viewing), I figured this was the end of Snyder’s run with these costumed heroes. I kept saying, “There’s no way this ‘Snyder Cut’ is ever going to happen.” But boy was I wrong to doubt him and the nontoxic fans behind this movement who have released a cut that is now one of the absolute best of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).
At a runtime of nearly four hours, there’s no way Zack Snyder’s Justice League sees the light of day in movie theaters; three hours, sure, but not four. However, releasing this on HBO Max is absolutely perfect (and it’s split into chapters so you can stop at any time!), and now I have to wonder: Will Warner Brothers (or HBO Max) bring him back for another Justice League movie? Who knows? But as Lex Luthor said, “The bell’s been rung.” And for now, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a celebratory moment for fans, pop culture, and many more thanks to a director who is finally getting the credit he deserves after everything he went through.